MEPs were voting on a report drafted by UK Labour MEP Michael Cashman regarding the revision of a 2001 Regulation on the right of public access to EU documents.
The report, adopted with 439 votes in favour to 200 against amid 57 abstentions during yesterday's plenary session in Strasbourg, amends Commission plans to improve public access to EU documents published last April.
Legislative vote postponed
Despite adopting Cashman's report, MEPs decided to postpone their vote on an accompanying legislative resolution until a later date, returning the dossier to the committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs in an attempt to get all three EU institutions to agree on the file before first-reading.
With EU elections set for June, the legislative vote was postponed until after the summer to give the European Commission the opportunity "to modify its proposal" and allow MEPs to "negotiate a first-reading agreement with the Council" after the beginning of a new parliamentary term, the Parliament said in a statement.
"The Council will then be chaired by the Swedish Presidency, which has made a priority of the issue of transparency and already welcomed the Cashman report in a public declaration," MEPs further explained.
New definition of 'document'
The report defines 'document' as "any data or content, whatever its medium, concerning a matter related to the policies, activities and decisions falling within the institutions' sphere of responsibility".
MEPs demanded that legislative dossiers be made completely public, including the positions of national delegations to the Council, and called on the EU institutions to make sure that "all documents" are contained in their registers.
The Parliament stressed that legislative documents "should always be available to the public and may not be kept secret on the grounds that this could undermine the decision-making process of the institutions".
New 'EU top secret' category
The Parliament established a scale for classifying documents. Should their disclosure be considered harmful to EU or national interests, files could be held back as 'EU restricted' or 'EU top secret'.
Documents whose unauthorised disclosure "could harm the interests of the EU or its member states" can be classified as ‘EU top secret’, but not if they concern legislative procedures.
Moreover, satisfactory reasons for refusing public access must be given. Documents to which access could be denied under this clause include those containing information related to "the privacy or integrity of an individual".
National veto right eliminated
"Documents originating from a member state should also be disclosed" after consulting the government concerned, but such consultation "does not give them a right of veto," MEPs said.
"Member states shall seek to ensure that an equivalent level of transparency is granted in relation to national measures implementing acts of the EU," the report declared.
Towards a single EU portal
MEPs called for the creation of a single EU web portal to house documents from all three institutions, including "preparatory documents, impact studies [and] legal opinions".
The Parliament wants information officers to be appointed by the EU institutions, responsible for ensuring that access to documents rules are correctly applied. All departments and directorate-generals "should designate a person responsible for ensuring that the regulation is properly implemented," the report stated.
MEPs' privacy protected
MEPs were quick to introduce measures to protect their political activity and independence. "Documents and electronic records that an MEP has received, drafted or sent are not to be considered as 'documents' in the sense of this regulation, as they are covered [by the MEPs' statute]," the report stated.
Renewed call for common EU lobbyists' register
The Parliament's report also reiterated MEPs' desire to establish an inter-institutional lobbyists' register, making public "the names, titles and functions" of lobbyists and EU officials "unless this information would affect the privacy or integrity of the individual".
The EU institutions will now attempt to reach agreement on the amended law in the autumn, once the new Parliament and the Swedish EU Presidency have begun their work.